Fourteen per cent of commercial spaces in downtown Sidney were vacant in January 2016.
That was one of the findings in a report by the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society (SBIA), presented to municipal council on March 21. Susan Simosko, president of the SBIA, says they had originally set out to survey all service sector businesses within the society’s catchment area in downtown Sidney.
After hiring Simosko’s husband, Graham Debling, to conduct the survey, he found he could also gather information about unoccupied commercial spaces. That gave the SBIA the most up-to-date information on the amount of empty stores in Sidney. (Editor’s note: the SBIA in email to the PNR, wanted it stated that Debling, a retired research scientist, offered to do the survey on top of a detailed survey he was recruited by the BIA to do, in exchange for an honorarium.)
Simosko said while Debling’s report is meant for discussion purposes only, it does give the Town the best and most current information on business vacancies.
“Our original purpose was to gather information on the service sector in Sidney,” Simosko told council at its March 21 meeting. “(Debling) realized that he could, just as easily, count the vacancies.”
Of the 437 total business premises counted, Debling found 61 vacant — or 14 per cent of the total.
He also broke down the numbers based on whether the space was at street level or on a second or third floor.
The report, Simosko noted, contains many caveats, including the SBIA’s admitted lack of specific knowledge of owners’ plans for vacant spaces. In fact, the report states the observations recorded were often based on the fact that some places simply “appeared unoccupied.”
“This is a snapshot of Sidney businesses in mid-January, 2016,” Simosko said.
The SBIA report outlines some of the types of businesses operating in the downtown core. It also, she continued, addressed the idea that shops downtown Sidney cater to people off the street.
“Only 50 per cent of businesses can even benefit from footsteps,” she said in general, citing examples of grocery stores, hair salons and other retail storefronts.
The other half, she said, are businesses that serve broader clientele and do not rely as much on foot traffic.
Where the report could see a benefit, is in detailing what types of businesses are active in Sidney — and where there might be gaps in service.
“This really only scratches the surface,” said Simosko.
A report from staff of the Town of Sidney to council noted the SBIA report provides an excellent summary of business activity and vacancy in the downtown. The work, it continued, represents a high-priority action item to come out of the Mayors Task Force on Downtown Revitalization from 2014.
Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey noted the report shows some of the town’s different buildings and their current state of repair. He noted most buildings in the downtown are ready for redevelopment of some kind.
Simosko said it will not be the SBIA’s job to take their report’s information any further. Any action would have to come out of the municipality.
The SBIA, she added, could commit to lending their help to any process the Town puts into play.
After brief discussion by council, they voted to send the report on to the Town’s Economic Development Commission.
They will be tasked with determining the report’s best use in establishing an ‘updatable’ commercial vacancy registry, among other discussion topics.
That Commission, however, has been stalled since two members quit earlier this year and one was let go by the Town. Sidney is currently calling for interested people to apply for three vacant Commission positions.